No.684981[Last 50 Posts]
When we last left our hero and her tagalong courier and sharpshooter, they narrowly avoided a class of young donkeys being taken by pregnant mother jenny to visit the minority shrines. Here, the lords of Abeardeen permit the jennies to continue their worship of whatever faith they had before coming to this place. The largest and most active shrine was for Celestia, but they have shrines for all the major pantheons, even a cobweb-covered, ill-tended one for the Doggic Pantheon, which Klava, your sapper, snorts at.
Your options are clear: brave the crypt which no doubt is filled with ghosts of heroes' past, or go above and sneak through the dairy refinery. One way or the other, you've got to get to the skull keep of Abeardeen Fortress.
You know from your scouting that the jenny Cation lives up near the top of it, who was a smalltime performer before, but she rapidly shot up in the world with the smaller audience pool and became an 'idol' - a very popular performer. You were hoping to convince her to put on a show, which would distract all the donkeys so you could sneak out Adel.
"I still think trying to convince Cation to distract the donkeys is a good plan!"
"I don't know if braving a crypt full of potentially angry spirits is really any better than going through the refinery. The latter might be our best bet."
"Maybe so. Unless she's not sympathetic to our cause."
Klava gives a nod. "I don't care which way we go, as long as we are resolute and confident. What will it be?"
Flop my ears.
"We're trying to save your sister! How can she not!"
Emrille prods you, "Selena, the decision? If you can't make up your mind, I'll make it for you."
"She's making a living off of this place, I'm not sure how hopeful we should be about her being sympathetic to us.">>684985
"Let's sneak through the refinery, I'd say."
Emrille grumbles. "It's not as… torturey so far as I expected. It's making it hard to get in the mood to shoot things, if you can believe it."
"You'll see, we mares and jennies have to stick together! She'll help!"
"Just remember they'd turn you into a breeding slave first chance they get. I have no fucking sympathy for this shithole."
Emrille groans. "Well, since Selena can't make up her mind I guess we'll go with Lilly's idea, let's go up. Ready?"
"We'll see how she feels about us when we get there, I guess."
Klava sneaks up the stairs and, after stretching her neck to get a view over the edge, motions for you to hurry up after her. You're in the middle of some kind of village like area, but you can see the front-center of the fortress where the skull resides. You're actually under the skeletal spine, so you can't see the eyes, which face outward. There's a nearby structure that reaches all the way up to the spine – perfect, if you can sneak through it, you can just walk the spine to the skull.
Getting a good look in either direction, you can see there are a lot of pregnant jennies here. Dairy must be a huge trade – and you see advertisements for varieties of cheeses, yogurts, butters, whey, and even alcohol like kumis. There's a shutter down to the cellar, or you can enter through the shop entrance. There might be other options around the other side, but you risk exposing yourselves on the streets if you go that way.
It's Lilly's plan. I'll follow her.
Let's see if we can bypass this place through the cellar. We just need to reach the bottom of the spine and I'd rather not get ourselves seen in the shop area.
The smell of milk is quite thick in this room as you descend the stairs, but it's ideal for hiding in. There are big booths everywhere with dark curtains drawn back. You hear the sound of milk pouring out into a bucket nearby. Roll stealth to cross the room unseen (both of you).
I'm super sneaky '1d10'Roll #1 10 = 10
Equestria can't take over this island soon enough.Roll #1 1 = 1
Lilly is so distracted by her thoughts that she nearly walks straight into a Jenny who looks like she probably gave birth recently. Selena thinks fast, though, and tackles her into a booth, behind the curtains. The jenny comically looks around for the source of the noise before shrugging and moving on.
It looks like there's an elevated bed here and an apparatus to make milking easier. No doubt about where the dairy industry originates.
You're halfway to the stairwell, you'll have to go again unless you have new plans about where to go.
Whisper "Too close. Thanks."
I don't think the plan has changed, so let's keep moving '1d10'Roll #1 6 = 6
Let her go and then keep moving cloely behind her '1d10'Roll #1 8 = 8
You very sneakily rush through the rest of the milking room, and up the stairs. It looks like there's just one more room you have to cross to get up to the roof access, it's the storage room where they keep big barrels of milk while they wait for it to ferment. Other parts of the facility, like for making cheese, you won't have to tour through. Lucky or disappointing, depending on your viewpoint.
Emrille whispers, "C'mon, I hate being inside. I wish we could've just flown up, I guess that would've attracted attention though, huh?"
"We're getting there, we're getting there. So far this route is paying off."Roll #1 9 = 9
Sneaky sneaky '1d10'Roll #1 9 = 9
With perfect coordination, you duck behind a barrel as a jenny walks through carrying a huge cheesewheel. Once the path is clear, you rush over to the staircase and up to the top. You've got a clear route, all the way up to the skull. You can linger here and get a look at the fortress grounds below, or hurry onward up toward your goal. You're close now!
Of course, you still have to locate Adel.
Maybe getting a look at the fortress grounds is a good idea. Just so we're a bit more aware of how this place is structured.
Flap my wings for a moment.
"Be careful, Lilly!"
Abeardeen is built in the enormous skeleton of an Ursa Major. The buildings inside the ribcage draw inspiration from structural styles all over the world, probably built sometime in the last half decade since the end of the bloodfeud. You're near the lower back, above what appears to be a commercial district - there's a lot of service industries, and entertainment halls. You can see places for jennies to go get massages and hooficures, and a big performance hall shaped like an oyster, that you suspect is where Cation plays and sings. Up closer to the skull is the military district, with no less than eight or nine heavily fortified barracks, flying different variations on the Clan Plaid banners. Midtown is entirely residential, though, and their residences are huge and sprawling thatched huts. They look like they are probably big believers in community housing. Since it's late, you see mostly adult jennies out – not many youngsters running about at this hour. Most of the population is pregnant. From your altitude, you can see outside of the fortress – there's a big road that leads down to a trading post, where several caravans are set up. That must be where the Great Bridle ponies go to barter for Ass goods.
You don't see any obvious rape pits, but if they're anywhere, they're probably up in the military district closer to the skull itself.
I hate Ursa Majors!
"We shouldn't dwindle too long. Let's go see this Cation…"
"Let's. I just needed to get a better idea of the layout of this place."
You hurriedly make your way up the spine, and start edging your way around the skull. Let's see… apparently her room is in one of the prime spots – located in one of the eyes. Which was it again, left or right…?
Are their doors to lay my ear against?
There's a great huge door below the end of the spine at the base of the skull, but you'd be more obvious if you descend from your perch on the spine
Let's see if we can just peep in through the eyeholes?
It could be a little risky, whoever has these rooms is obviously very important. You could end up peeping in on the lord of this place!
Roll stealthy horse if you wanna try it, but you've been warned of the risk!
Also say which one you're trying first
Fuck."Where did she stay again? The left or right eyehole? Anyone know?"
And we cannot just look inside the eyes? I'm sure Emrille can peek with her sniper glass or what's it called from here!
That'd require her to fly out in the open and risk getting spotted.
That's what I said, you can peak inside but you have to lower yourself over the glass to do so and risk being spotted
Hmmm time to put on my thinking hat.
What do I have in my inventory?
382 bits, completed work order, bank documents, Face’s Fez, parasol, machete, Cultist Map, 6m rope, Writing Kit, warm fur coat, Pirate Dice (2,3,4,4,7,9,10)
Oh my, my lovely parasol, I almost completely forgot about it. But that won't help me now…
Snap my hoof! "I could make a potion that allows one of us to look inside!"
"That's a pretty good idea. A one way mirror could work too, but whatever is more convenient."
Emmy clops her hooves together. "Now that's a spell the old stallion should've taught me. 'Conjure floating mirror'. I bet I could bank all kinds of trick shots!">>685025
That work order too, that you made on episode 1 of the quest and forgot to deliver.
Someone is really wanting those fireworks right now!
After a moment of reflection, she snickers and adds, "And check out mares more efficiently."
Poor guy, and he was so nice too!
But I did leave a note on my shop "GOING TO SAVE MY FAMILY." I'm sure he'll understand!
Make an Astral Travel potion!
"See, this is why I never told you about these!"
You brew up the potion, now you just have to use it by drinking it!>>685030
"Oh yeah, you definitely need to make me some for the road when we're done!"
"Do you ever think of anything else?"
"I should stay guard here. Who wants to drink?"
"Are you for real? Obviously I have to stay, I'm the markspony. It's Lilly's sister, send her!"
"I used to think of money a lot too. Oh, and guns. I guess shooting things with magic bullets too…"
"Here's hoping for no weird side effects."
Take the potion and down it quickly.
You're not sure what classes as 'weird side effects' because the whole thing feels pretty weird to you. No sooner is the liquid down your throat then suddenly you can't feel anything. You shake, trying to draw your hooves up to your face but your body doesn't move. In fact, you can move entirely free of your body – a totally disembodied ghost. Freaky.
Catch her so she doesn't fall down!
Wave into thin air, since I know she's Floating around!
Oooookay, not a fan of losing control of my actual body. Let's not lollygag. Try to float my detached form past the walls into the left room first. If Selena's brew works as intended, I should be able to just ignore these walls.
Yes, it worked! This room is actually quite huge, and it doesn't even take up the whole left eye, it's just the top room in the eye. You're not sure who is who, but you feel confident this is Cation's room. There are two pregnant jennies here, chatting on the bed and eating ice cream. There are some foals here, but they've already passed out to sleep on bedrolls.
The reason you feel sure it's Cation's room is because it's so music-themed! She has a huge stage-style vanity with makeup stations and all kinds of instruments, from piano to one-jenny-band harness. If wall decorations are anything to go by, though, the absolutely most venerated, beloved instrument is some kind of weird looking guitar mounted on the wall. It's flat like a board and doesn't have a hollow hole for sound below the wires – how does it even work? The bed is exactly what you'd expect for a star, because it's enormous and literally shaped like a star!
It does appear the window can be unlocked from the inside – there are three places where the window wall becomes an openable window, any of them will do.
Well isn't this just a jolly sight. I want to stick my head into the other room as well, just to check if anyone is in there. If not, I'm just returning to my body to see if I can get back in it. Can't waste time.
The adjacent room on the same level but different eye does appear to be some sort of royal quarters. Whoever is patriarch of this particular chamber isn't in at the moment, but two tough-looking guards are covering the interior.
You leap back into your body, and gasp as the sensations of your senses other than sight reconvene with you! You are now breathing manually.
Make sure all my body parts are still where it's supposed to be. I then quietly relay what I saw to the others."Now that we know there's guards there, we'll need to be careful not to make too much noise or they'll hear us."
Frown."That'll make shooting them hard."
Klava adds, "We're almost through this stealthy. It's going better than expected. While you two get to work here, I'm going to bust out my nephew. Meet back at the tunnel in the shrines.
"It's not me you should be worried about, one of us here actually knows about Stealth.
"I'd still like to avoid detection for as long as possible. Good luck though, we'll see you soon.
Yay it worked!
But when I hear about those guard, I quickly prepare 3 Cure health potions!
"Emrille should probably stay out of sight while Selena and I go in. Keep her gun ready in case of trouble."
What's your plan? Tap on the window? Smash in?
Lilly knows, she went in there! I'm sure she checked out a good way in! Look at her happily!
Nod."I'll stand guard here. Shit goes down, I can provide covering fire for a quick escape."
Let's just try… tapping. And hope we don't spook them into running away or something.
I fly with her to the window
One of the jennies comes to the window and opens it. "Oh, the mail is here. We have a mail office though, and isn't it kind of late for a delivery?"
"Special delivery!" I smile. Bluff '1d10'Roll #1 5 = 5
I swallow, my mind racing for a moment before I speak up.
"Uh… Cation? Miss Cation? I have an urgent message for miss Cation."
"Oh, I'm not used to ponies not recognizing me, it's me. What's the matter?"
The other jenny gets up from the bed, "Shh – the little ones are asleep already."
"Oh, we'll say, just let us come in first. It's tiring to fly out here!"
She steps back from the window.
Weeh fly in and land…on the tip of my hooves so I won't wake the foals
The other donk smiles appreciatively, and whispers, "You know, you kind of remind me of someone I've seen before. You probably get that all the time though? Since ponies look so much alike
Fly in through the window, trying not to panic.
"Ahem… I'm sorry miss. My name is Li-Light Heart. I'm not actually here for mail business…"
Take off my hat and run a hoof through my mane.
"I'm here to look for someone. You're really the only person I'd heard of on this island and… you seem pretty popular with the locals as well so I assume you know a lot about them."
The other jenny adds, "Small world, that was my mom's name."
Cation smiles and nods. "I'd be happy to help you look, maybe we should go out in the hall where the foals aren't sleeping though?">>685066
"Haha, no. I haven't left the fortress in a while. I have too many kiddos of my own."
"Wa-Wait, you're Light Heart's daughter!?"
Try not to choke as the other donkey speaks up.
"W-W-What? Wait but… Adel? Is that you? You're Liberty Belle's daughter?"
"Ssssshhhh!" Point to the foals!
"It's probably not that uncommon of a name in the pony world, right? Don't half your names have hearts in them?">>685069
"How'd you know? Did you know her?"
"Yes, we're friends of your mother. I'm Selena, I haven't seen you since you were a foal!
Grab her face and inspect her! Make sure she hasn't been hurt!
"Light Heart was my mother's alias… Liberty Belle was her real name."
I give her a small smile.
"My actual name's Lilly Belle. Sorry for deceiving you."
"Lilly? I remember, we were like, five when I left with my dad. Your mailpony disguise is pretty convincing, I didn't recognize you at all."
She looks thoughtfully at the foals. "We really should catch up in another room."
! Oh wait, I need to step back and give them some room!
How silly of me!
Let Adel go. Guess I should only do that with the twins
"Uh… I'm actually a mailpony. That wasn't a lie or anything."
"I know it's not the most glamorous of jobs, but I enjoy it!"
Shake my head.
"Doesn't matter anyway, I didn't come here to catch up. I came here because I heard you're being kept here as a slave. But… I guess… you're not really…? Or is this some kind of ruse?"
She pokes her chin with a hoof. "I've been free to go for three years, does that count? I didn't even know you were still alive. Er, sorry if that sounds bad. I just have a family now, and they're a lot to keep up with…"
"How is this okay with you? They killed your dad didn't they? Don't you know that?"
Oh I feared this might happen!
"Uhm miss Cation, we're not exactly…legally here. Do you know where we can talk without risking the guards to see us or wakikng up the foals?
"It's complicated, Lilly. I've had a lot of time to heal. And it's not like every single donkey here was complicit in killing him, you know. Not Him anyway…"
She gets a distant look in her eyes. "Trace really helped me when I was at my lowest. He didn't ever support that feud. And we have foals now. If I hate him just because of the family he was born into, isn't that just the same as the blood feud that killed my father?"
She smiles, "It's alright, I have guards posted outside my room due to fans, but if they give ya trouble I'll shake a stick at 'em."
Grin. "Good to know you fillies can handle yourself here! How's life here anyway. To tell you the truth, we hear the most dreadful
"But… But… they took away your life. Your freedom. Even if you're free to go now, that doesn't take away the forced breeding…"
"Well it wasn't entirely coerced… They said I wasn't allowed to leave until I had two children, so that our population wouldn't collapse. I didn't meet anyone for the first year, which is actually a lot in a community this small. I was grieving still, you know. But Trace… it felt right. We're in love, and he only wants to be with me. He could have twenty jennies if he wanted to - a lot of the jacks here do. After the first two foals I had three more. This is going to be my sixth.">>685083
"Jennies, not fillies!" She says proudly, big ears standing at attention, before being shushed for volume. "It's nice, though. To have my music appreciated. To tell the truth, before here I was really having tough luck. I don't have much of a head for management or finance and I kept getting ripped off by my managers. Since I've got free lodging and whatever I want here, I don't worry too much about getting paid."
"I wish I could hear you perform sometime!"
"You should hear my electric guitar! I can rock out somethin' fierce!"
Shushed again. "Sor-ree. I'm not used to having foals around."
This is giving me a headache.
"It's just not right…">>685086
"This is not okay, right? I'm not being crazy here am I? My parents wouldn't have allowed this to happen, right?"
Adel's ears fall. "This reminds me of that story Cation told me, about the two pony lovers who couldn't be together because their families hated each other."
Walk to Lilly and put a hoof around her shoulder.
"Lilly, you're young and I know you're upset. What you need to understand is that, when enough time passes, you can't hold on to the bad things of the past. At some point you have to move on not just for yourself but for who's important to you.
It's not perfect, the world isn't perfect. But if you focus on the little rays of sunshine in your life, you can be happy again." Look at Adel and her foals.
"You can't just… compare that to a story. Her father got murdered. She was forced to make kids for this messed up society. What about the jennies who don't want to make kids? What happens to them? Are they just forced to stay here forever?"
She frowns. "You don't understand. There weren't going to be any donkeys anymore. My whole people were going to die out. I'm happy to preserve that culture. And most importantly, for the first time in a thousand years, we're at peace. Making love, not war."
"So you're allowed to be happy and free as long as you allow yourself to get forced into doing stuff. What a deal."
"You can't understand this, Lilly. You're a pony. I had hoped you'd be happy for me, we haven't seen each other in so long. I guess that anarchic pirate spirit rubbed off too strongly on you, though. I think you should go."
"Fillies, please, you haven't seen each other in so long. You don't want to leave like this…you're sisters!"
Cation gives an awkward look. "Maybe I should… uh, let you have some space?… Wait, this is my room!"
"Yes, let's just go into the hallway, we don't wanna wake up the fillies!" Nod franctically!
"I've been working an honest job for the last few years. I'm not making much money with it, but I get the freedom to do what I want. I enjoy it and I didn't have to submit to a authoritarian demand to do so. You can dress it up as nicely as you want, but if you weren't so lucky as to find somepony who you actually love, you'd still be stuck here without children. Until the day you die or until whoever in charge decides the birthrates are not high enough and rapes you."
"Please Lilly, let'ss not do this here. Maybe the fillies will hear you." I say beggingly
"What do you want from me Lilly?! To burn down the whole city? I have friends here, my lover is here. My kids are here. My salon is here. I play tennis here. I can't abandon my children, and I can't support six young foals without Trace, I don't even have a job. I've been a mother my whole adult life, and I'm happy with that!"
Clench my jaw and glance back at her.
"… This conversation is over anyway. She made her decision. I fucked up. I figured she'd share the same grit my mother had, but apparently not.">>685100
"I'm sorry there wasn't anyone to reach out and help you back when it mattered. I guess our parents are to blame for this in many ways. I came here because I felt bad for you, but I guess you have your life figured out already and you don't need any help. I definitely have no part to play here anymore, so I'll just leave you to it. If you ever change your mind, you know how to contact me."
Smile sheepishly at Adel.
"Uhm, Adel, it was lovely to see you again. Uhm, do you need anything? A little present to help with the foals?"
"Let me know if you find out where Grey lives, and if she isn't so judgmental. It might be nice to see more of the family, I can take the kids. They should get out and see the world outside the fortress!">>685101
She ignores you.
Get a piece of paper and write my adress down. "You can always end me a letter, and you're welcome to drop by sometime!"
"Grey lives in Dixie. She's the one who told me about all this and asked for help. She's been worried sick, but I guess that's not important either."
"I don't even know if Red is still alive either. But I'll find her next and tell her you're okay when I do."
"You… seem nice. Sorry, I guess I don't remember you. Thanks for the offer, though. This place, Witherloo, is it nice?">>685105
"Oh, I'll have to visit her! I'm sure she'd love to meet my family in that case."
"Yeah. I'm sure."
"It's a very nice place! And my daughters would love to meet you as well!"
She breathes a sigh of relief. "I'm just glad my own little ones didn't wake up. You know how it is I'm sure. Well, I mean, Selena knows. But you probably have a fiance now, right Lilly?"
"Cation, it was lovely to meet you. You know, my daughter would love an electric guitar, where can I get one?"
Give her a look. Is she trying to roast me for not being signed up with the local rape union?
"Don't be so sure."
"Oh yeah! That's pretty slick, huh? They're not easy to get a hold of, they might have one down at the trading warehouse? It's near the main exit to town. I can walk you down there so the boys don't fuss over you.">>685111
"Woah, sorry. Touchy subject."
"Uhm…Lilly, you don't mind if I uh…take a quick detour?" smile sheepishly. "Oh and uh cation, I better tell my friend who's on watch because she might think you captured me and uh…well it wouldn't be nice!"
"Let's just say some mistakes were made."
"Oh, okay. Well, let me know when you're ready."
Adel: "I'm gonna take the foals back to my place. If you want to stay until morning, there's a place to traders near the gates."
Quickly go and fly out to Emrille!
"Emmy, it's okay. They're not going to attack us. In fact they're very friendly! I'm going to go through part of the fortress with one of the jennies okay? Don't shoot, please!"
"To be honest with you, I'd rather leave as soon as possible. People are worrying back in Dixie and I still need to track down Red."
Amazingly you convince her with out an argument. It's a once in a lifetime chance!>>685117
"Well, okay. Have a safe trip, everything said under the bridge. I've learned a lot about forgiveness, and I can let this go too."
Quick go back before she realizes she should be arguing now! "Okay, I'm back I'll hurry!"
You check out the trading post with Cation's help.
You consult their handy signs!>Electric Guitar - $Obscene>First Wrench - $If You Have To Ask You Can't Afford It
It's just in your pricerange. Want to buy them?
You're sure they'll love these. Plus, having the first wrench ever made is like the perfect gift for someone about to start a career in pipes. You are so thoughtful.
I am best mom!I sure hope they'll forgive me for leaving them ;_; they must be worried sick. I'm the worst mother in existence.
"There's nothing to forgive. I don't approve of this whole situation, but you're still my sister so I won't go against your own will. You want to be angry at me for disagreeing, fine, that's in your right. Red has views that I completely disagree with as well, and I'll tell her as much now that I've read her manifesto."
I frown, shaking my head.
"I'd give you my copy, but I doubt you'll like it much better."
You're gonna go back to Dixie and pick up Jolly first I assume roll luck
'1d10'Roll #1 9 = 9
It seems some time with the Belles helped Jolly recover. He seems more lucid again, and remembers who you are.
Where to next, want to drop off your gifts for the girls, or follow up on that lead Emrille gave you on Abilio*?
*You can choose to simply ignore the lead and never follow up on it if you prefer.
I don't know!
What if he grows up and leaves me again ;_; My heart couldn't stand that!
That is, in fact, a real risk (unless you ask Abilio to simply stop his de-aging and not fix him to the correct age).
Since you haven't decided what to do about him, you'll go to Witherloo first and deliver presents. On the way, Jolly complains, "It's one thing to spend a lot on gifts when you're dying like I was, but you have a whole life to plan for, Selena! You have to be more careful and stop wasting money!"
Do you want to remind him that he promised to defer to you as head of family, or agree with him that you have no head for finance?
Actually, that should be adjusted to "dying like I am", since of course, he's still doomed
Flap my ears and cross my hooves!
"Maybe that's true! But I haven't had a lot of money to spend on Gifts for them for a very
long time!" Look him right into the eyes
He looks down, breaking your gaze. "Yes, ma'am. It's your money now, anyway. You can do what you want with it."
Look back at the sea.
What was again that Emrille said?
Shouldn't she be on my boat as well btw?
She wanted to get back to Tela, she said she'd figure out a way to get Sunny to you. Do you want to get separate cabins for yourself and Jolly, a two-bed cabin, or just share a one-bed cabin? He's small enough to not take up much space.
On the way back to Witherloo, Jolly remains meek and lets you handle all the grown up conversations, hiding between your legs like a genuine little pone.
After a few days ride, you're back on Equestria. It's funny, these last few months you've traveled the world over seemingly countless times. It was a good last adventure before retiring from that life for real.
Back home at last, you have a key, but maybe you should knock just to surprise your daughters when they come to the door?
Oh yes, they'll be so happy to see me!
Tip toe back home with the presents!
Knock knock? Or key key?
I'm the one who knocks!
A dark blue unicorn stallion answers the door. He kind of looks like what you might describe as a 'free spirit' – dreadlocky charcoal mane that's a bit greasy, and he smells like strange herbs. He's got a pretty untamed facial hair situation going on and his tail is matted. His cutie mark is a wine glass.
"Uhh, wrong house?"
Flap my ears involuntarily!
"Oh that's funny, I could have sworn I owned this place!
He shakes his head, "That can't be right, I'm dating the mare who lives here."
"Ooooh, could you be a dear and call her please?"
He scratches his big hair. "Yeah, sure. Hang on just a sec."
A few moments later, he ushers Aira out, whose ears are already freely flapping. "Uh, hi mom."
I'd have been really surprised if it was Aria to be quite honest.
"Hi dear, I just thought I'd drop by and see how you were doing in your new house!" What does she look like?
She looks alright, save for the fact that she looks like she just woke up and it's past noon. Deciding to go all in, she musses up Jolly's hair ("Hey, little guy!") and gives you a big hug ("So happy you're back!"). If you want to whisper something ominous in her ear, now's the chance!
"Never go wild in your own home, especially if it's really not your own.
Release the hug "Oh honey, I'd so good to see you, I can't wait to see your home!" Let myself in! Look at the stallion in passing. "I'm Aira's mother, and you are?"
"Glass Harp, dude. It's cool to know you. And hey, you get to know me before I hit it big, so this will be something to look back on!"
All your hard work cleaning up the front sitting room is wasted, clothing and trash just left sitting out all around. Beer bottles in particular are everywhere. Jolly scrunches, but rather than judgmental accusations, he stands under your legs passively. He's really come a long way, which is good - you can handle this your way instead of yelling (though you can still yell if you want to! That's what it means to be in charge)
Do I note any of Aria's stuff here?
"Glass Harp, the name sounds familiar, do you work at the bank?"
Also I guess I can't expect help from Jolly. Such a turnoff!
No, but then, there are three rooms upstairs.
"Nope, I do a little freelance music. Maybe you've heard of me, my reputation precedes me."
Aira laughs a little nervously, "How about I whip up some lunch in the kitchen? Just, uh, Glass, can you pick up some of the bottles? Mom just – uh, actually, let me clear off the couch and you can sit."
"Oooh, maybe. Have you played at the theater or something, Glass? Oh thank you, Aira, could you make some tea please? And perhaps a bit of lemonade for your brother Jolly?"
"Oh, I don't do theaters. They're part of the system. See, big property owners get to profit off musicians just because they own a building, that's not right, right? So I do public festivals and stuff like that, where ponies pay what they want."
Aira nods hastily and rushes off into the kitchen to fix your drinks.
"How…quaint! How did you two meet?"
"I was doing music out in New Earth for a couple turns and we–"
Aira suddenly rushes back into the rooms with the drinks and sets them on the table. "Oops, I'll have to go back for the lemonade, forgot it. Glass, could you get Jolly's playpen out of the attic? It's through the master bedroom's closet."
"Yeah, for sure."
He starts trotting upstairs, giving you a few minutes to chat privately while Aira fixes Jolly's drink.
Aira is turning red as she dumps some lemonade into a sippy cup and hands it off to Jolly.
"Can you just say what you're gonna say? I'm sorry I said it was my house, I didn't mean it like, I own the place. I meant it like, hey let's go back to my house."
"You could at least have tried to keep the place clean! Where's Aria?"
"Mom, I've had a lot going on, okay? I was gonna clean it eventually I just haven't had time. And Aria moved out, she said she got a better offer, so whatever, I could use the space. I took your room and turned our room into a guest room, and Jolly's old room is a music room now."
"And what was your plan for me coming back?"
"…I could… move back to the guest room?"
Wait a minute.
"I was gone for what, a few weeks, I told you, I told both of you that I'd be back and you…you just take over my whole house.?!? What you thought I wasn't coming back?!?"
"No, no, no! I just wanted to impress Glass! I'm sorry, okay! Sssh, calm down! He's gonna be back soon!"
"OH I HAVE TO BE QUIET NOW. LET ME SHOW YOU SOMETHING! GLAAAAASSSSSS!"
She tackles you, spooking Jolly out from below as she pins your mouth closed.
Glass comes down the stairs and plops the pen on the floor, which the little ponoe scurries into with his sippy cup.
Artist's job now done, he approaches your struggling heap in the kitchen. "Wassup?"
Aira yells, "Nothing! Just go out back! We're having a special family hug! I'll be out in a minute!"
"Glass dear. Do you like my daughter?"
"Yeah, she's alright. And she picks up the tab on my beer so who can complain?"
Look at Aira like seriously.
"You don't understand, he's actually a musical genius! He has perfect pitch and he plays an entirely new instrument!"
"I am pretty good, yeah."
Look at them both.
"Glass, I think you better go take a walk, I need to talk to Aira for a while." I say finally.
"Hey, whatever you two need. I'm happy to go with the flow. You uh, want a hoof up?"
"See, he's a gentleman too!"
"Just go, I'm sure you know the way."
"Yeah, well it's not like I wanted to spend all day here. Take it easy."
He wanders out, past Jolly's pen where he's haplessly sucking down his lemonade.
Aira finally breaks the silence, "I am really glad you're safe, though, mom. I didn't want you to go in the first place, you know."
Is she letting me go or do I have to go not nice?
She gets up and helps you up too.
Put my mane straight.
"I know." Look around. "You will clean this up?"
"Yes, mom. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, honey. I'm happy to see you again." Give her a hug. "But…you will have to tell him that this is my home. Or I will."
She groans. "Do I have to? Come on, you were such a good actor!"
"Honey, if you hope to have any chance with him, then he won't care about that! He should care aabout you, not this house! You can't pretend this is your house forever!"
"Because I'm not going to sleep in the guest room."
"I can just tell him that I respect you so much, I thought you should have that one, because I love my mom so much."
"No sweetie. You've got to be honest. You're a beautiful, smart mare. You don't need this house or to pay his bills to impress him! You understand?"
She sighs. "It felt so good to be strong and independent, what's he gonna think of a mare who lives with her mom?"
"Sweetie, let me tell you something. Wether you live alone or with your parents is not so important to him. What is really important is, is he interested in you or interested in your house? And let me tell you, it might seem easy to just give a stallion everythig you have, but that doesn't make them like you. Be honest, if a guy walked up to you and just gave you money, would you love him?"
"Uh no. In fact, a lot of guys did that in New Earth – wait, that sounds like I was a whore, I wasn't! It wasn't for sex! I mean, they would put money in my case when I played!"
Take a moment to ignore that.
"Of course not. What I'm trying to say is, when you let him live here, just like that, that won't make him respect you! He should be trying to impress you! You need to make him chase you! Then he'll forget about everypony else!"
"Alright… but don't tell him about Jolly. That much weirdness would care him away. I'll pick up everything and start moving out while you go visit Aria, alright? I'll even watch Jolly for you."
"Okay, I won't tell him about Jolly. And I'll allow him to stay if he wants. But…keep in mind what I told you, okay? If he's really such a musical genius, you should be his muse, not his groupie!"
She blushes. "He said I inspired him before… so…"
"That's good. Make him tell you his dreams and his hopes!"
That's always good to know…
"Okay… do you need her address? She lives in the company houses, up near the palace. Oh hey, I got to talk to the Lion while you were gone, you must be so jealous, right?"
"Wow, amazing! What did he say?"
"Uhh, it was kind of private, but I guess I can say. He said that when I fall in love, I'll know it right away. So that has to be this, right? That's why I can't lose him!"
Oh Lion, I really should poison you sometime.
"Well, but your mother says, don't lose your head! Now, tonight if Aria isn't busy I'd like all of us to eat here, okay?"
She rubs her mane nervously. "I'm not sure we can do that. You see, Aria is living… on the Walloon half of Witherloo! I'm not totally sure yet but I think that means we have to be enemies."
"Aria!" I say shocked!
Shit, mistyped! I meant as in Aira!
That changes the meaning completely!
"Well I mean, the neighbors might not like it if we had Walloon ponies coming over to our house, right??"
"She's not a Walloon! And we're not Flemish for that matter. We're Equestrian! And everypony here is also equestrian!"
"Oh yeah! Right! Uh, wait, does that count then?"
"Let's just suppose you were born on the Walloon side of town and lived there all your life, but then you move to the other side of town. That's the home you own now. Are you still Walloon or have you become Flemish just by moving?"
Clearly too much for poor Aira, her eyes widen and she places hooves on either side of her head, collapsing onto the couch. "…Flemish? No, wait, is that…? Walloon? Hold on… Maybe I should ask the Master of Witherloo…"
Look slightly worried.
"Sweetie, you can think about it after you've cleaned the house."
"Alright!" She perks up, and begins cleaning off the couch.
Jolly, in the playpen, looks up from his sippy cup to wave you off.
Aaaah my lovely family!
Now, let's fly up and find my other Little Darling. Let's hope she's been a bit more responsible!
And if I see that Flute or what'shisname with another mare on the way there's gonna be splosions!
There are a series of narrow townhouses up near the palace square, and you spot Aria's on the Walloon side. There is a definite chalk-and-ebony color scheme going on, and you pass a very serious looking mime pony on the way who is apparently trapped in an invisible box.
The townhouse is really quite small, but it's prime real estate.
Wow it looks nice! She's been spending her money, but there's far worse Things to spend on!
Knock on the door!
The door swings inward, revealing Aria. She has dark circles under her eyes and looks a little ragged. She's in a nice pantsuit but it's wrinkled and the undershirt is sweat-stained. She's sporting a five-o-clock shadow (wait, no, that's just a coffee stain all over her chin), and her mane is in ruins. Her eyes widen a bit.
Give her a hug then quickly look at her.
"Sweetie, I'm so happy to see you! But what's happened to you?!?" I say in a high voice
She hoofs inward. "Eh, come in. I've just been busy."
Her place is more of a wreck than Aira's – er, yours! But this one has papers scattered all over the floor. The biggest feature in the cramped house is a card table in the middle which still has playing cards all over it and piles of chips. There's a toppled, empty bottle of vodka in the middle. There doesn't appear to be a bedroom but she has a pretty nice couch at least, with a blanket and pillow. Leaning against it there are several abacuses.
Instead of a pantry, she has a dresser re-purposed to hold food, while actual laundry hangs from window sills, cabinets, and door frames (including this front one) on hangers. More laundry is draped over the back of the couch. Looks like she probably wears clothes every day of the week!
"I've been busy."
"So I…see?" I say a bit uncertain looking at the mess.
Maybe I've been pushing them too much? Maybe I should let them do their Thing? No it is the children who are wrong.
"I've been promoted three times in the last month, I'm now regional purchasing manager." She says dryly, without a hint of excitement. "Next week I'm going to a conference in Canterlot. You wanna coffee or vodka? That's all I've got."
"Coffee will be fine. Did you…celebrate last night?"
She waves at the card table while pouring a cup, not even looking at it as the mug fills evenly from practice. "It was a business meeting."
"I see. Aria, are you taking care of yourself? Are you sure you don't need a..day off?"
"No offense, mom, but I don't want to end up as some groupie. I have plans. Ambitions. I'm going to hoof my way to the top. You wanna know how I got this position? I told them I killed a man who stood in my way and there's still a warrant for me in Dust. They named me Senior Purchaser on the spot. Then after that I adopted their customs and styles, and I've already replaced my old boss. You want any coke with your coffee?"
Is coke considered a drug yet?
It's brand new! You don't even know what it's called!
"Coke? Never heard of it…sure! I'm proud of you, sweetie!"
She slides your coffee across the table, then starts spreading out some white powder on a board. "I made this using the alchemical knowledge you taught me, and this coca plant the tribe ponies back in Bokis Cargo used for rituals. It's kind of hard to import, but it has taken off in popularity pretty fast…"
"Does it enhance the taste of coffee or something?"
Give it a try!
She directs you to snort it – which is a little weird! But once you do…
You hear some kind of bass music playing, and the walls in the room begin to waver. You can't resist smiling as you are filled with incredible exhilaration and joy – you are soaring over Canterlot Castle! Mom's alive and she's here! Light Heart, too! She's waving at you – she doesn't say it, but somehow you can FEEL, physically with your body, her gratitude, like a cosmic vibration. She is grateful that you saved her daughters! She doesn't need to know that Adel didn't need saving! You do a barrel roll, which you haven't done in years, and you can see a picnic down on the ground, by the gardens in Istanbull, where your family are all eating happily together!
I'm not sure what's happening, but I like it!
In this moment, you come to realize you have fully redeemed the Springleaf name and that no one from this day forward will ever be ashamed to go by that name, and it doesn't mean gypsy anymore either.
Yeah! You know what I wanna do? A night on the town! I'll show these ponies how a pirate parties!
Everyone's there. Even Light Heart and Chip are getting along, they haven't done that since that big fight that made the fleet split and you quit to go become an alchemist!
You blink yourself awake. Or… were you already awake? Your eyes are dry and tired. There's… a blanket on you. You appear to be on Aria's couch, and have a headache. Looks like outside the window, it's nighttime…
Eh, since there's no other rooms in this house besides the minikitchen (which is not separated by a wall), maybe she's out for the evening?
Dinner? I must be so broke by now…
Bleh, I didn't even get to give her her present.
I feel so horrible. I'm the worst mother in existence. Wait, what's that. Look around. I don't feel alone, there's somepony here I know it! Hide under the blanket!
A knock at the door!
YOU SENSED IT! THE COKE GAVE YOU MIND POWERS!
It's the pirate-hunter! He finally found me, just like he found Light Heart!
The knocking is getting more incessant, and to make matters worse, he sounds just like Aira!
"Mooom! I got Aria from her joooob! Are you in here?"
Wait…I feel a bit better! Open the door!
Aira's out there, you don't see the pirate hunter anywhere! Is he hiding behind her?
"There you are! Hey, uh, you don't look so good mom. Your eyes look… red."
They do feel dry and tired.
Eh, I was just tired I think!
"Oh, no worries dear. I'm just a bit tired. You know, maybe I should have some more of that coke.."
"Coke? Oh, that stuff Aria's been selling? Mmm… I wish I had her talent for alchemy. Some ponies just aren't born with the gift, though!"
"Ah, everypony has their talent! Maybe some later, right now we Need to go to dinner! Is aria already there?"
"Yeah! Well, kinda! I sent her on ahead, so probably!"
Pat her on the head.
"Lovely! But…what will we eat?"
"There's a new trend called 'canned food'! I've been eating that! I got some more cans for us!"
"Perfect!" Yay at least it's not her food!
At least the house is mostly clean when you get back home. All the stuff is picked up and she wiped off the table, but she didn't dust or wash anything else. Also she just stacked all the dishes in the sink instead of actually washing them.
Aria is hanging over the edge of the playpen where she teases Jolly, holding his wagon toy above his head as he stretches to reach it – unable to fly or magick it down as an Earth Pone. She smiles and waves as you enter. "Ready for dinner? We're starved."
"Yes! It should be ready to get off the stove, can someone set the table?"
Well, it's more than I expected! She's growing up!
"Yes! Let's have dinner!"
Aria comments, warily, "Mom, the dishes?" as she hoists Jolly out and into a booster seat.
Right! They should just be in the cabinet… Surely no surprises there!
Let's just get those dishes!
Open it! The cabinet I mean!
Well, she hasn't been washing enough. There are only three glasses and three plates. And while that's not really a problem for glasses since Jolly will use his sippy cup again, it does leave someone completely out of a plate.
Pull a dish out of my hat '1d10+2'Roll #1 9 + 2 = 11
Out fucking skilled!
You pull a full size plate out, it's clean! No one will be the wiser, except that this one has a floral pattern on it.
this one is mine~
Now let's sit down and try some of this canned food!
There are two offerings tonight – green beans, and macaroni and cheese. Also, not from a can or the stove, there are some slices of cantaloupe. It's not a bad spread, for Aira, all things considered! She remembered your preference for tea, and got Jolly's juice, but there's a brief exchange as Aria wants coffee rather than tea.
"Is there any coffee in the house, Aira?"
"I can make some! I'll just improvise some ingred–"
"Please no, I'll just run down to the market street, it's only one road over."
Frown. "Okay, Aria, go get your coffee, but please hurry because there's something important I want to tell the both of you."
Jolly squeaks, "Pass the macaroni, please!" and Aira heaps some on his plate while you wait. It's not long before Aria is back, with a whole tin of coffee, plus a fresh one in a cup. "I brought some you can keep over here, in case we do this again."
"Thank you, Aria. Now that we're all here. Aira, Aria, I want to say I had a lot of time to think while I was gone."
Look at both of them.
"I love you both with all my heart, but I will not always be there for both of you."
Aira looks terrified, Aria looks wary. Jolly looks uncertain, and like he might interject, but then thinks better of it and decides to let you speak first.
I grab a hoof of each. "I've done everything I could to raise you both as best I can.
When you left for adventure, I let you go with a heavy heart, I feared the worst.
And now that we're here again and together, I want you to know that I think you've grown up to be…" Sniffle. "I think you've grown up to be beautiful Young Mares, each with your own Gifts. And you're very Young, Celestia knows I made a lot of mistakes at your age. But I know now that you both will be fine, and I really hope you'll take good care of each other. Family is the most valuable Thing you have!"
I really should have prepped this! I regret everything!
Aira starts crying.
Aria adds, "You're still going to be around, though, right? You're not leaving already."
"You never know what might happen! I want to be sure I said it! And I have a gift for both of you!"
Aira is still sobbing and puts her head on the table, but Aria leans in curiously. "Oh, yeah?"
Rub Aira's head.
"It's okay honey."
Nod to Aria "Yes, they're right in the cabinet, could you get them please." nod to Aira.
Aria places the packages on the table in front of Jolly's booster seat. He knows better than to complain about the cost now that you've talked some sense into him!
"Can we open them?"
Even Aira seems to have cheered up a little, looking with curiosity at the package.
Nod and shove the one for Aira to her.
She rips it open! "Oh wow, mom! It's so cool! So it's like a fake guitar wall decoration? This will look so good in my room! I love you!"
Aria carefully unwraps hers, not wasting the paper. She gives the certificate of authenticity a grave appraisal, before giving you a full hug. She's more composed about it – "Thank you, mom. I get the sentiment. I appreciate that you're supporting me with my new job."
"No, it's a real one! It's an elaktrick one!"
Give Aria the Hug as well!
"I know you'll dazzle the world, Aria!"
"Elaktrick? What does it do?"
"It Needs lightning, I've seen it at work and then it acts like a really special loud guitar."
Rub my chin "But I have to admit I didn't think about where to get the lightning."
I bet Face would want to kill me right now.
Jolly pulls at your cape, as if to ask permission to speak.
Here it Comes.
"In your story, before, you said Rhanna found a type of stone that makes lighting any time metal was near."
Well, well! Looks like you've turned him into a better listener. It must be what they say about 'a little less talking'.
Aria musses up his hair. "Good job, little bro."
Jolly blushes and nods modestly. "Thanks."
Turning to you, Aira asks, "So do you know where we can get a stone like that? Oh, where is Rhanna now, anyway?"
"Rhanna said she was going to the moon or the big black next to it…I suppose she'll show up any day now."
Put on my thinking hat. Do I know any place to get a Stone like that or will I have to track her down? '1d10'Roll #1 5 = 5
"I don't know where to get one of those. We should ask Rhanna. I'm legally her Guardian come to think of it."
"The moon?!" Aira and Aria call out in bewildered surprise.Pause
Your litter returns you upstairs to your room. You have a little time before the luncheon, perhaps you'd like to spend it taking a quick nap to ease your nerves, or maybe reading a book of poetry to have something to talk about. Or maybe just tour the gardens again?
Well, cooking helps soothe nerves, but if I do that I might offend the chefs.
I'll pace for a bit, fret over what to wear… can't go out to the gardens, might get dirty and lose track of time, which would be embarrassing. I guess I'll have to bet on poetry being my conversation topic, unless these noble fillies care about undersea adventures and how best to prepare fish…
Besides, all that pacing wore you out! It's nice to flop on your big, cushy, cool bed and start reading.
When love hits two people
It's far beyond their capacity
It's not a choice.
Like Princess, bored in her kingdom,
Ordered the pegasi
To stitch them together
As one piece of fabric
Through thick and thin.
Then the Deceiver, jealous of such union,
Does his best to set them apart again.
He tries loosening the threads,
Uses scissors to rip them.
He even makes little unnoticeable holes
Just to damage the cloth.
But they must be smart
They must see through his villain attempts
At spoiling the embroidery of love
The Princess sewed on the cloth of their heart.
They must resist.
Sometimes they do
Sometimes they don't.
It is full summer now, the heart of June;
Not yet the sunburnt reapers are astir
Upon the upland meadow where too soon
Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze.
Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil,
That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on
To vex the rose with jealousy, and still
The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,
And like a strayed and wandering reveller
Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger
The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade,
One pale narcissus loiters fearfully
Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid
Of their own loveliness some violets lie
That will not look the gold sun in the face
For fear of too much splendour,—ah! methinks it is a place
I'll just stare blankly at the poems for a bit.
The first one was easy enough to understand, but the second one… are all poets so pretentious? I think it's talking about plants?
I'll settle my head down beside the book.
Are all high society mares reading this sort of thing for fun? They won't make fun of me for not really getting it, will they? I'm sure if I fake it, they won't be able to notice. Oh moon, but what if they do? They're already going to talk about my fish parts, but if I let slip that I'm some backwater rube, too…
Lightly bap myself on the cheeks, to push those thoughts out of my head.
"No, I'll be fine. It'll be a wonderful tea and I'll make all sorts of new friends. Because that's what princesses do, we make friends."
Read another poem, then go look at any outfits that may be prpared for this. Aunt… hrm. Calling her aunt Skylight seems a bit… but mother-in-law doesn't really…
Shake my head.
Worry about semantics later
, Marina, you've got dresses to try and fit into.
"I doubt she'll even get on top of a tree" I wave my hoof carelessly
Aria shrugs. "Well, she'll wash up sooner or later."
Aira bops her on the nose. "That's no way to talk! Come on, you're her legal guardian! Where is she now?!"
"I can't help it if she runs off without me! And I don't know where she is anyway!"
Aira asks, concerned, "Where'd you leave her last? I mean, see her last?"
"You're not going to believe me, but on a big iron boat in the middle of the ocean!"
"The middle of the ocean? Wait, did you sell her to pirates?!"
"AIRA! Why would you suggest that! She ran off. And then we met in the middle of the ocean. Stranger things happened! I met you about to be sacrificed to some monster from the beyond!"
"She's just a puppy though!"
Aria shakes her head, "You two are getting distracted. Just tell us the whole story instead of being vague about it!"
"If I had listened to her all the way you'd have been floating in some huge demons belly right now!"
Let out a frustrated whinny.
"I was on my way to the Highlands when out of nowhere some huge metal boat rammed us. I floated up there to give them a piece of my mind and Rhanna was there. I know, crazy right. So I told her to come with me, but she wanted to stay with her new crew. Which were all diamond dogs, you see. Maybe she's better off with other diamond dogs instead of being surrounded by ponies?"
"And one or two griffons. I think."
Aria adds, "Alright, now I kind of agree with Aira. You probably should have gathered a little more information."
Perk my ears!
"Oh, so now I'm the bad guy! Is that what you think? All because Rhanna ran away from me?!?"
Aira offers reassuring placation, "No, no, we're not saying you're a bad pony mom! No! We just might want to find a different home for Jolly. You're so stressed with your work and stuff, you've already proven you can raise children, you don't need to be trusted with any others."
She wraps her wings around him protectively.
Aria nods, bringing down a hoof on the table decisively. "I bet we can get those work placement documents eradicated. You don't even live in that city anymore!"
Quickly fly over, grab Jolly and get him back.
"NO! No, you won't!"
Look a bit freaked from that.
Then look at Aria still holding the Jolly.
Aira pats Jolly on the head, reassuring him, "It'll be okay!" as Aria addresses you, "Hey, do you think you'll ever go back to Lubuck? As nice as Witherloo is, I kind of miss living in a normal town."
"I don't know. This place is nice."
Cringe at Aira bonding with Jolly.
Jolly closes his eyes and squirms out of your grasp enough to give Aira a hug. "It's okay." He adds - you're not sure if it was to you (meaning: It's okay that this is happening) or Aira (therefore: I trust Selena), but it seems to have reassured her, and hopefully you.
Aria shrugs. "I mean, I'll probably live on the road at this rate. Ever been to Canterlot? You know I've got a meeting up there."
The sun is shining today. It's unseasonably warm, actually, but the forecast is clear for the first time in weeks.
"Mom, look at this!" Aira calls to you – she's late, but it's not a rigid time schedule you're on. She's wearing a necklace that looks like a tuft of golden fur.
"You're late! Some of us have to keep to a schedule, you know!" Aria adds, angrily.
"Look! I got an actual necklace with actual fur from the Master of Witherloo!"
"It's probably fake."
"Nuh uh. Come on. I'll play a tune as we go."
Aria hurries around to the front of the cart – it's a familiar one. One that you never thought you'd see again. It's a little miracle that you could find it. With your newfound wealth, you shopped for a cart big enough for traveling, and it was there. The same cart you grew up in – your mom, Theia, traveled all over Equestria in this thing. A family bed, and enough room for her alchemy.
Jolly scrambles up the side, plugging Aira's new guitar into the side of a big safety box that contains the stone, and she starts picking out notes on her electric guitar after patting him on the head. "I bet I'll make a name for myself on the road! Better than Harp's. And next time, he'll come crawling to me."
Aria just shakes her head and smiles, grabbing Jolly and climbing into the second cart in the caravan – well of course there would be more, just one cart isn't enough for the rich Springleafs now, is it?! You didn't travel the whole world over twice just to end up in your mom's old digs! "Come on squirt, tell me again about the Manesian Pirates and the Daring Sack of Stonebriar Port." Jolly… he can't be a father to them, but he's managing. His mind didn't fall apart, and he's bonding. Every day he lives with the guilt of throwing his family away - but also with the happiness of being forgiven by them. You don't work him too hard, but he has to earn his keep cutting and grinding alchemy ingredients. He's meek and obeys you, but every now and then you see that spark of independence. Some day he'll be ready for Abilio to fix him completely, but for now he stays a child, for his love of his daughters who can't see him as anything else.
The roadtrip up to Canterlot might be the last great adventure you get to take with your girls before one enters the corporate world and the other enters a career in this new 'electric rock' fad – named for the thunder stone that powers the guitars. Rhanna turned out to be okay: she said she's in an "internship" and can't wait to show you her progress at the wedding. She has something for you 'for your stress' - she calls her invention a 'back scratcher'.
Marina… when she marries, it could end the fighting between the Sun and Moon. It wouldn't be the first change in the world. Red ideas are still spreading, and it seems they won't be stomped out easily. It makes you wonder about the legacy you left behind compared to others you lived with. The thought of Emrille reminds you to grab Sunny off the ground – and xir's latest pack of split-off growths. A proud progenitor. They nest comfortably on the roof of the caravan where you plant each.
After all that, you found family, love, wealth, technology, adventure. There were some bumps - demons, capitalists, drugs. But it all seems to melt away as you rejoin your family and magick the wheels to start trundling down the road.
One last trip filled with hugs, laughs, and those smiling faces you can only love. One last journey to Celestia's city of Canterlot. You can almost see it from here, sitting on the horizon.
Worrying about that is, fortunately, no longer your job. When it's time for you to get going, Root Fallow, your maid, brings you a dress - you don't even have to worry about putting it on yourself. Then it's onto your litter to be carried down to the private dining quarters. At least you can be sure no matter what company you have for brunch, the food will be delicious.
It's a small chamber - or as small as palace chambers come: a second floor room, with a single table by the window where you can look out and see the garden. All those fresh foods you've sampled yourself help whet your appetite, though the view does remind you that you've yet to visit the fishing pond. Soon, you'll have to resolve. Princess duties are so hard, though! They really eat up a lot of time. Besides the window, the room is circular and perhaps twenty feet across – well lit by the late morning sun. A red carpet stretches to the entrance door where a couple of the House Hatfield guards flank the threshold. Skylight won't be here to guide you through lunch since you're doing private audiences, but you can take these girls one at a time.
Your personal maid, Root Fallow, will remain here though - clearing dishes, wiping your face, and directing servers.
I'll try not to make too much of a mess. Last thing I need is for these ponies to think Aquamarine mares are slobs. Gossip is a thing, after all, and… never mind, just don't mess up.
After taking a moment to steady myself mentally, I suppose it's time we get this luncheon started. And remember, me, you've got to smile.
Root goes to direct in an eligible friend. She does seem like she's dressed pretty nicely, a real nose-in-the-air type, eyes closed as she strolls across the chamber! With practiced grace, she settles in opposite of you at the table.
… Is… someone supposed to say something?
The awkwardness is at least broken when the procession of trays begins – ah, your first platter, they've brought out grilled fish! It's been so long since you've had such a simple taste of home. The cooking is clearly Baldric's – how kind of him to remember you've been craving fish. Looks like there's a simple salad for your guest.
She opens one eye to squint at the grilled fish.
I'll start us off, then.
"Thank you very much for coming on such short notice. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Ohh, that does look lovely! I can't wait to get into it. But, patience, socialization comes first. Do high-society mares do hoofshakes? I don't think they do. But we're already sitting, so curtsying is out. I suppose I'll just make eye contact and keep a cheerful demeanor.
"My name is Marina, of Aquamarine City."
She won't stop staring at your plate.
"Y-you know there's a dead body on your table?"
"It is a fish, yes. Baldric, the chef, prepares them very well!"
My smile will falter a little.
"Though… I do suppose it just being there, even cooked, is a bit much for ponies who aren't used to the idea of eating fish at all…"
Taking a napkin, I'll regretfully cover the apparently offending appetizer.
"I'm sorry, I should have considered the feelings of my guests a bit more thoroughly."
Paling, she shudders, pupils narrowing as she suddenly jerks her gaze away from the table. "I-it's just so unhygienic! Eating corpses…"
"Properly prepared, they're no different than eating cooked vegetables or plants."
I'll raise an eyebrow.
"And the chefs all wash their hooves and paws almost compulsively, so there's no worries of that sort of problem."
I'll start to rub my foreleg, but catch myself and stop.
"I mean, it's not like it's a pony or anything on a plate. It's just a fish. Gryphons and Diamond dogs eat them too, you know."
As you finish your verbal flourish, she advances from merely looking ill to outright sick, doubling over for a vomit onto the stone floor beside the table. Unbalanced, she stumbles toward the door, "S-sorry. You're charming, I'm sure…" as she trots out.
Fallow waves for a maid to start cleaning up the vomit.
I'll deflate a fair bit, and give the maid room to work.
Well, that could have definitely gone better…
"Fallow, is there a bit of time until the next meeting? Or is the next one going to be sent in immediately after the clean up is finished?"
I'll put my hooves together for a second.
"And if it's not too much trouble, I'll need to get that pony's name so I can send her a proper apology. I didn't realize a pony would react so… negatively to non-traditional meals."
"Whatever you want, princess. It's up to you when you see your next guest."
I'll consider a moment.
"As I don't want Baldric's efforts to go to waste, I'd like ten minutes to take care of that fish dish. That way, it won't be wasted and my future guests won't have to confront the fact seaponies can and do eat meat."
I'll rub my foreleg.
"Of course, the dish would have to be taken out before the next guest enters, but I'm certain that won't be a problem."
Well, it's admittedly a bit of a buzzkill to eat with vomit next to you, but at least it's being wiped up.
I'll be at the other end of the table!
Divide it up into pieces as large as decorum allows, and finish as much of it as I can before eight minutes pass. We'll need the last two minutes to remove the offending dish and make certain the room's a bit freshened up.
And that I don't have food on my face.
This is just a little tea table by the window, though - more personable, less imposing like that long imperial-esque affair you first lunched with Cumin's family upon.
Old you probably would've struggled to down so much fish so fast, but if there's one skill you've been honing a lot lately, it's eating. And so fresh, too! What a shame your guests don't understand how good fish is.
It's the shame of sheltered city ponies. But grilled fish right off the bat may have been a bit much.
At any rate, once everything's ready, the floor is clean, the plate is off to Baldric with my compliments, my dress is straightened, and my face is free of crumbs or debris, I'll signal Fallow to send in the next one.
Since there's no fish this time, there's no chance this one will throw up.
A dashingly beautiful redheaded pony strolls in, nose in the air – scowling as she takes her seat. "Well? The food isn't even out yet? First, you make me play second fiddle to that nothing you sent running, then you make me wait ten minutes, and now I have to wait again on food? Who do you think I am?"
Weren't there still the baked goods?
"I'm afraid that there were some slight… complications with the food. As I didn't want a repeat of the… indelicate situation of my previous guest, I thought it best to correct a few things before carrying on."
I'll bow my head slightly in apology.
"As for who I think you are, I would hope the answer to that is that you're a pony generous enough to forgive a slight inconvenience."
"Well then you'd be wrong! Nopony treats Scarlet Star with such indignity. If this is your idea of a first impression I don't care to see your second!"
With that, she storms out! Root Fallow maintains her stalwart expression: "Shall I bring the next guest?"
I'll give up on smiling for a second, and sigh.
"Yes, go ahead. And I think we should get some fresh tea, as well. Maybe that'll help them feel more comfortable?"
While Fallow fetches the next guest, I'll straighten myself up a bit, and put my smile back on. Can't let them see how bad you are at making friends.
The next guest takes a bit longer to arrive, inexplicably. Just when you're about to call out to ask what's taking so long, the next guest is ushered in – an earth pony whose frilly pink dress belies fairly muscular legs and a challenging gaze, though she's not particularly good looking. Still, maybe aiming low is a good start.
"Yo," She calls across the room as she closes the gap quickly, "So you're the new princess."
It's the inside that counts. Otherwise I doubt Cumin would have wanted to follow me, even if I did patch up his leg.
Nodding to my new guest, I'll answer.
"That I am. Marina, of Aquamarine City. May I have your name?"
"Just call me Whatsit." – Doesn't sound exactly noble. Fallow stiffens somewhat when she finishes closing the gap and kicks her back hooves up on the table, spilling the fresh cup of tea – but thankfully yours settles without spilling.
"Saw you sent that prissy Star packing, not bad. What a bitch, am I right?"
"It's, um, nice to meet you."
I'll silently thank Luna that her hooves are clean, at least. Also, take a sip of my tea.
"I wouldn't go quite
that far, but she was certainly… quick-tempered? Maybe more than a little high-maintenance."
"Look, I'm gonna make this quick. Neither of us wants this to go on very long I'm guessing so if you'll just agree to say we had a nice lunch I'll go ahead and leave. Sooner I get out of this portable cage the happier I'll be."
My smile will falter a bit.
"Well, if it makes you feel better, so far you've lasted the longest in the 'portable cage.'"
Sigh, and put down my tea.
"Please, at least take something to eat on your way. That way if someone asks you about what we had, you won't have to make up a story."
I'll gesture towards the baked goods that the chefs slaved away on, which had been going completely unappreciated.
"You can't really go wrong with any of them."
She nabs a pair of chocolate chip cookies off the center, skipping the more wholesome options like rolls and cornbread entirely. Pocketing one in the dress (that's going to stain), she lets the other roll down her outstretched arm and takes a messy bite of the other. Muffled, treat still clinched between her teeth, she manages, "Anks, eets goof," as she heads for the door.
"Thanks for being honest."
I'm gonna need a minute to deal with this. And stain on the cloth…
After Whatsit leaves, I'll start patting that spillage with a napkin.
"Fallow, do you know who the next guest is supposed to be?"
She clears her throat, "Assuming no one else has left, that will be the Baron Straw's daughter, Thread Straw. Do not worry about the mess, I'll clean it up. Do you need a break? I can reschedule for an hour, it might give us time to determine who is still here. We could move up your dress fitting."
"No, no, I'm… I'm fine. I'm just starting to think that they're looking at this as an unpleasant formality instead of a chance to meet someone new and maybe make a friend."
Sigh a little, and just leave the napkin on the wet spot.
"I've put them off long enough after that first one, no sense in delaying them even further. And I doubt any of them would be in the mood to take this outside into the garden, so we'll just have to make due with how things are here."
I'll take a steadying breath, and then signal to Fallow.
"Alright, let's keep this show going."
The next girl is wearing a simple violet dress, no hat. She has long dark hair, and looks kind of dour. The way her dark mascara is running slightly, combined with the rest of the ensemble, reminds you of some kind of zombie, or perhaps one of those crazy Discordian cultists you clashed with for your home.
Regardless, she shuffles like a zombie up to the chair and takes her place opposite of you, eyes down.
"Good, um, good day? Thank you for joining me for lunch."
She mumbles zomething in reply. I mean, something.
Okay. Well. At least she isn't vomiting, angry, or making a mess of the table. So that's better than the last three, at least.
"Please, help yourself to anything you might like."
There are little plates to put the snacks on, right? Or is this just drawing from a communal plate?
She sits in place, motionless – not responding.
Well. Okay then. I suppose I'll just set up a little plate with a random assortment of cookies, then. Just three, though, since I'm not sure how much she eats, if at all.
"Say, that dress is a lovely color."
She stares at the plate you've assembled, without speaking up.
Take a sip from my tea.
Hmm. Conversation seems to be a no go here. Maybe…
"Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on bat ponies?"
She shakes her head. It's the most reaction you've had out of her yet!
But is it a good or bad one? Who can say?
"I'll admit I don't know much about them, myself. I've only ever really met the one, you know."
I'll make myself a little plate of cookies. Three, same as I gave Straw.
She nibbles on a cookie as you talk.
Nibble nibble. I won't talk with my mouth full, though.
"He turned out to be the prince of Transcastria, though. So that was a surprise."
If that impressed her, she has a funny way of showing it, not commenting on it and only working her way through the cookie.
Well, I wasn't trying to impress her, just get some kind of reaction. I guess for now we'll just eat in companionable(?) silence.
This really doesn't seem like it's going to go anywhere… it feels like she's just eating up your time to meet others! Why won't she say something?!
Maybe she's just quiet? Or shy. Or she just doesn't want to talk to the weird fish pony, like I'm sure none of the others want to either… No, no, that's a bad thought. Shoo, shoo.
Once I've finished my little plate, I'll try once again for conversation.
"So, um, Straw- can I call you Straw? Or would you prefer something else?"
She mumbles something in reply, not looking up. Man, she's just a wall!
Well, I wasn't really expecting a clear answer.
"Okay then. I'll just have to assume that was a yes."
I'll rub my right forleg for a second.
"So, uh, Straw do you… did you actually want to come to this lunch today?"
She shakes her head. Ouch.
All these failures, departures, messes, and wasted time. This is turning out to be a pretty disheartening day.
Well, it's to be expected. I'm a weird fish pony from a new city that's run by the probably third-most hated religious sect in Equestria, right after Discord and Tirek.
Still, not gonna lie, it does hurt.
I'll close my eyes and nod a little.
"Thank you for being honest with me. I hope that, even though you didn't want to come, you still managed to enjoy yourself. It was nice to meet you."
Quietly she edges out of the chamber.
"Shall we continue?"
I'll shake my head.
"No, I don't think so. None of them want to be here, and I'm not going to force them to go through with it just to play out some stupid formality."
I'll get up and head away from the table.
"Fallow, you and the others can divvy up what's left of the cookies and snacks. I'd much rather they go to somepony who'd enjoy them than to the garbage. And we might as well move up the dress fitting, so it feels like I've done something
useful and right today."
I'm not gonna cry yet, though. That comes later.
"And do pass along my apologies to whomever else may be waiting. Both for being unable to meet them, and for keeping them waiting."
"Yes princess. Typically before a fitting we would perform a weighing, but we can skip it if you prefer."
Oh joy. That doesn't sound like much fun. The truth is, one of the few things you have
gotten good at since arriving here is eating. You can keep up with nobles at every meal, detect subtle flavors, and even use utensils with incredible precision. It has been the sole weapon in your arsenal to impress the other nobility, and to please your chefs who are the closest things you have to friends in this strange foreign city - but it hasn't been kind to your waist line by any means. It might be less depressing to just go straight to the fitting.
No, I'm gonna have to face that music eventually. Might as well do it while it's still the overture.
I'll shake my head.
"No, Fallow, we'll do the weighing. It'll help me see just how much exercise I'll need to do to not end up having to be rolled down the aisle."
Your personal maid clops her hooves together, summoning attendant stallions to pick up your litter, and a fresh dessert milkshake is placed next to you to sip on while you ride downstairs as Fallow carries out your orders. Being a princess is so hard - isolated in many ways, and using so many skills you weren't prepared for. Did mother know what you'd have to go through? Was Cumin the right choice? "Keeping it in the family" aside, you're sure these indignities wouldn't be part of marrying some of those other suitors. Hell, even with Davy at least you'd be among Lunites and seapony-lovers. You feel a handkerchief dabbing at your cheek as one of your servants helps you with the stray tear.
Not even the lemon bars help with the anticipation as you are loaded onto the scale and Root dismisses the other servants so she can handle your weighing herself. She offers, perhaps unhelpfully, "Don't worry princess, there are still many more potential guests we can invite. We will find you bridesmaids even if it means picking commoners off the streets, importing them from your home city, or hiring locals to pretend."
"While I appreciate the sentiment, but if it comes to that I might just end up roping you into it. I'm sure you'd look lovely in one of those dresses."
I'll give her a wry, half-hearted smile.
And I'd have these 'indignities' and a half if I'd picked Vlad, that's for sure. Every candidate had their own problems attached to them, but I can't doubt myself now. That'd be an insult to everyone I turned down, and at least three insults to Cumin.
Though, at the rate I'm bloating up, I'll probably have to trim down my food intake. I know he wouldn't do it out loud, by my brother would never let me live down getting married while looking like an overstuffed seal.
Internal monologues aside, just how bad is the damage to my waistline?
"Of course, if you ask me to, Princess, I am here to serve."
Well, numbers are numbers, but you didn't expect to be so much. The measurement leaves you shellshocked enough that by the time you blink your mind clear you're alone again – this time waiting for the fitting. Nothing in this little waiting room except your wedding dress. It looks tiny – your recent weighing isn't making it seem any roomier, and certainly not the memory of imagining frail little Cumin in it.
Now some stranger is going to feel up every part of your less-than-astounding body and talk about how the dress is going to be unrecognizable with the number of alterations to fit your new shape. Today is just awful.
Knock at the door - you can answer right away, or take some time to collect yourself. It might help.
Maybe it's the seamstress Cumin went to when we got here. If that's the case, I should be fine. If not, well, it's not like a professional would gossip about the whale of a bride I'll end up being, right? Right.
Let's let whomever it is in.
Cumin pokes his head in – even just among the two of you, though he hesitantly draws closer and, after a moment of hesitation, puts his forelegs around you. "What's wrong?"
Wow, that obvious?
I'll hug him back.
"Just a little trouble with filling out the bridesmaid positions. Lunch didn't… exactly go as hoped. Plus I just had the weighing, so there's that too."
I'll let out a weak laugh at that.
"Sorry for worrying you."
He hugs you a little tighter, "Why do you laugh when you want to cry?"
"Princesses aren't supposed to cry, and a high priestess's daughter even less so."
I'll just stay in the hug for a while. It's a calming feeling.
"Besides, if I started, I probably wouldn't be able stop for a long time, and that's not something anypony would want to see."
Sniffle a little.
"The hug really helps, though."
"Do you think I'm weak because I tell you what's bothering me?" He asks, voice a little raw, "You know, I've been vulnerable with you a lot."
I'll pull back a bit and shake my head vigorously.
"NO! No, I don't think that in the slightest. I just… I don't know what I'm doing."
Is he… is he angry?
"I just, I didn't want to worry you. I didn't want you to think I was getting cold hooves just because I have no idea how to make friends with other noble mares, or that I'm worried about how fat I'm getting, or that ponies will look down on you for marrying a fish!"
Ah, there go some tears. Rub those away real quick.
"Not one of those mares I met actually wanted to be there. And that hurt, but there were still things that needed doing today so I couldn't let that get to me."
Sniff a bit.
"I'm sorry that I ever made you think that I thought that."
He gives you another squeeze. "It's okay to tell me those things, okay? I want to be here for you. Out there on adventures, I was no good at that stuff, but I've been noble for all my life. These things are more manageable to me than deer cults controlling the weather or demons infesting a shrine. So… talk to me, alright?"
Sniffle again, and then giggle a bit.
"Okay. But just so you know, I have got a lot
of questions about courtly manners. And how I'm going to politely ask the chefs to rein it in a little, otherwise I'll never fit in the aisle, let alone the dress."
Smile a little weakly, gripping his hoof softly.
"Do you think, maybe tonight after dinner, we can have a nice talk, just the two of us? We could walk around the garden for a while, or find a nice spot to sit and chat. That'd be good, right?"
Taking out his tape, he urges you up against the wall, "Marina, there's no dress I can't make bigger, and what kind of fiance would I be if I cared what you looked like?"
He wraps the measure around your belly, "You've already looked past so much for me – don't you know I've always done the same? I want you to be happy
. You're never going to look like they want you to, because you're always going to have fins and lunar jewelry. So don't worry about the dress. I will make it fit you. And tomorrow, instead of princess luncheons, why don't I take you to meet my friends instead?"
It's quite a shift from before. Being the daughter of Mera, you always had to be strong - be the one for others to lean on. It only felt natural to have to support Cumin in all his weaknesses and imperfections. But now that you're in a life totally alien, it's a relief to have someone you can trust to lean on too.
"I… I'd like that."
Smile a little, though I'll inwardly wince at the amount of tape he's spooling out to get around my stomach. When did I get so huge? This just means that, after the ceremony, I'll have to start burning off this gut. Knowing I can count on Cumin like this really puts me at ease, and even though the events of earlier still sting, it's so much less now.
"Still, I really have to ask how you got so good as a tailor! When did you find the time to practice?"
"Well, I was going to have to admit to who my friends were some time before tomorrow anyway…"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0RNeyjmaE0
The next day, Cumin would take you to meet the "sewing circle" he was a part of here in Manehatten before moving to Autumnsreach. Amongst them, Stella, the dressmaker you met at the great shopping center the first time you visited. It's a relief to be away from judging eyes and meeting ponies who aren't there because of any obligations. You had asked Cumin, previously, for lessons in sewing – and it's a fun activity to bond over, but you quickly turn up hopeless at it. It's one thing to navigate utensils with practice, but the needles are just too small.
As the days passed, it became easier to cast off the expectations of appearances and princesshood. With Cumin at your side, you visited Baldric's fishing pond, and cast off your fancy dress to go for a swim! The three of you laughed as you broke the water with a huge mackerel in tow. Feeling like home again already.
Days swimming by, the two of you spending more and more hours together, invitations out across the sea and many returned. This new life, of forgetting everyone else's expectations and focusing on just your love, seemed so idyllic and peaceful. Perfect. Until one last letter arrived. One that demands appearances and acting. The kind that shrinks your pupils and rocks you to the core, and makes you lean on those close to you.RSVP for one
Eternal God-Empress of Equestria, Defender of Prance, Germany, Great Bridle, Poneland, Lethuania, Snowborder, Crystalheart, Grand Duchess of Everfree, Overlord of Witherloo, Holy Successor to the Imperial Throne of Trotantium, True Ruler-In-Absentia of Colonial Dixie, Chief Claimant to Cabelleria, Defender of the Faithful, the Redeemer, the Light of Dawn, Princess Celestia
Well then.To be concluded